Likud primary candidates ply voters with jingles and jugglers

Sa’ar: "We must all work together so the Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government."

Playing tunes during Likud primaries in Tel Aviv (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Playing tunes during Likud primaries in Tel Aviv
The Likud jingle – “Likud in your heart, Likud in your head…only one can go against the whole Left” – blared out of several speakers simultaneously, out of sync with one another at the Tel Aviv Convention Center on Tuesday.
More than 58% of the 120,000 eligible Likud members voted in the party’s primary, more than the previous primary’s 55%. Results were expected to come in early Wednesday morning, after polls closed at 10 p.m. and counting began in Ramat Gan. Likudniks voted at 113 polling places, though few had the spectacle of the northern Tel Aviv polls and the Jerusalem International Conference Center.
Huge plasma screens displayed campaign videos that had been disseminated online in recent weeks, with giant versions of candidates. More than a dozen tables with banners hanging off of them were set up, with volunteers – many of whom appeared to be skipping school – handing out flyers and stickers to passers-by.
MKs David Amsalem and Sharren Haskel stood right by the entrance to the room with the voting booths, so they could personally talk to anyone who went in and entreaty them to vote for her. MK Amir Ohana had several life-size cut-outs of himself stationed outside the Tel Aviv polls in his absence.
There were plenty of snacks, as well, like Lotus-style biscuits from Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, chocolates from Transportation Minister Israel Katz, and, in Jerusalem, packs of gum from local candidate Tzofia Nahoun. But there were none of the frankfurters that were once an infamous treat candidates distributed at Likud conventions, symbolizing the gimmickry rampant in the party; Channel 13 aired archival footage Tuesday reporting that then-Likudnik Tzipi Livni gave out 10,000 hot dogs in the 2003 primaries.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any gimmicks. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin brought along jugglers and jazz saxophonists on stilts, shaking voters’ hands. MK Oren Hazan had four impersonators of himself following him around. MK Yehudah Glick brought his new bride with him to the Jerusalem polls, where they walked around with boxes of chocolates to hand out. MK Yoav Kisch had a life-size figure of himself in a flight suit – he is a former air force and El Al pilot – along with a headless flight suit so people could take pictures next to him, and a photographer was stationed in Jerusalem to take pictures of those posing next to cardboard Kisch and printed magnets with the photos, as is popular in Israeli weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs.
Still, this year’s Likud primaries was thought to be a relatively clean and friendly race, without “hit lists” and much negative campaigning. Erdan, who was top of the list last time, even had an ongoing video campaign in which he talked about the achievements of other candidates.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was spared the excitement at the polls when, in a historical first, the party set up a private voting booth for him and his wife Sara near the Prime Minister’s Residence. The reason, his spokesman said, was not to disturb voters in the regular polling places.
“I have one request from Likud members,” Netanyahu said. “Vote, go to vote, and vote in favor of my proposal to strengthen the Likud against mergers in the Left.”
Netanyahu’s proposal is to allow himself to appoint candidates in three places on the list, the highest of which is 21st.
The celebratory atmosphere at major voting stations hid tensions beneath the surface. About a third of the Likud’s current 30 MKs are not expected to make it in, and several were jostling to be in the top five, such as Erdan, Katz, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Culture Minister Miri Regev and former minister Gideon Sa’ar.
The question of the day was how Sa’ar would do, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that he wants the candidate, who returned to politics after a four-year break, to fail.
Netanyahu said on the LikudTV webcast on Sunday that he was told by party activists that Sa’ar was conspiring to be appointed prime minister after the elections, in light of the expectation that Netanyahu would go to a pre-indictment hearing on corruption charges before then.
“I stand behind every word I said, every syllable,” Netanyahu told reporters while in a press conference with Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen.
Sa’ar continued to deny the allegation as he voted in Tel Aviv.
“We must all work together so the Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu will form the next government,” he said.
“You may be interested in what happened until yesterday,” Sa’ar told the media, “but I’m interested in what will happen after tomorrow.”
Sa’ar’s ally, Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz, may have lost some of his luster as well. Katz was long the Likud’s biggest power broker, based on having been the head of the Israel Aerospace Industries workers’ union who recruited thousands of party members. But after a critical State Comptroller Report, there were no longer buses bringing IAI workers to the polls directly from work.
Another open question is whether selfies translate into votes. Or, in other words, whether the populist appeal of Hazan, who is the unquestionable king of selfies with party activists, is enough to carry him into another term in office. Some in the party are sick of his penchant for personal insults, while others see him as someone who stands up to the Left. Hazan has the support of some settler groups to give him a boost.
And then there’s the Tel Aviv factor. The White City’s district, which also includes Holon and Bat Yam, has 3,000 more members than in the last election. The New Likudniks, a group that seeks to bring more moderate voices into the party, takes credit for most of those votes. When many young voters appeared at the Tel Aviv polls, including parents with baby strollers in tow, the murmurs were it was an indication that the New Likudniks had a good turnout. Their candidate, Nir Hirshman, was thought to be a longshot, but they have become power players supporting several other candidates, most notably Haskel, who also made sure to have a major campaign presence in Tel Aviv, likely for that reason.